With summer vacation right around the corner, long, sun-filled days are fast-approaching. What better way to spend them than at the beach? Whether you live near the coast, or are planning a seaside family getaway, a trip to the beach with kids is a lot more fun when you’re prepared. Yes, sand toys and sunscreen are a must. And be sure to tote plenty of snacks and drinks too. But as a seasoned beach mama, take my word for it that having a couple of planned activities—beyond the basic wave-riding and sand sculpting—is a good idea. When your little ones get too sandy, too hot, or generally disagreeable for whatever reason, pull out one of these creative ideas to reset the mood!
Beach Fun: Sea Life Touch Tanks
For many summers now, my girls have enjoyed weekly visits to a small strip of shore we call Shell Beach. We gather with friends and the kids spread out, spending the day shaping the powder fine sand, riding the Gulf waves, scaling snail-covered rocks, and climbing low-hanging sea grape trees. The one activity they all adore, however, is creating “touch tanks”—portable containers filled with sea water and found sea creatures. Armed with nets, shovels, buckets, and curiosity, the kids seek and discover all variety of sea life: crabs, non-stinging jellyfish, small fish, sea urchins, sea snails, coquinas, sand fleas, whelks, and more! Once captured, the critters are corralled into buckets and bowls where they can be touched, examined, and observed. The touch tanks are added to all-day long, and then the creatures are gently returned to their habitats, unharmed.
• Bring along a few buckets and portable containers, and some nets and beach shovels, when you visit the shore.
• Help your kids to search the different natural habitats of your beach to discover the varying sea life they house. Look in the water, around rocks, along the shoreline, and in the sand. Take a walk and see what you can discover in different areas. (Consider visiting the beach at different times of the day to see what different critters can be found.)
• Gently place found critters into buckets or containers filled with water or sand, depending on the creature. Now is your chance to examine them up-close. If it’s safe, encourage kids to carefully touch and explore!
• If you like, bring along field guides to help you identify the species you collect.
• Keep adding, or cycling, finds to the touch tanks all day long. Remember to always return your critters to where they came from.
Beach Fun: Art, En Plein Air
Sometimes an entire day (or weekend, or week) of sun, sea, and sand can be overwhelming for kids. I’ve found we can extend the length of our beach trips if I plan a quiet activity that can be done on a blanket, in the shade of a tree or beach umbrella. In comes beach art en plein air—a French expression which means “in the open air.” Typically used to describe painting outdoors, plein air art for us includes various types of mixed media, including crayons, markers, colored pencils, and tape/glue, as well as paint. No worries if the kids get messy—they can wash up in the ocean!
• Pack a tote bag of art supplies. Include simple, portable materials such as sketchpads, watercolor paint trays, a few paintbrushes, markers, crayons, tape and glue, colored pencils, and a cup for water.
• Try landscape pictures: Suggest kids paint, or draw, the landscape as they see it. Have them first divide their paper into thirds with one-part sky, one-part water, and one-part shore (they don’t need to be equal parts). Next, encourage them to add details they observe, such as clouds, birds, boats, people, palm trees, rocks, and so on.
• Get creative: There are many creative ideas you can do for on-location art at the beach. Try making a leaf rubbing of a seaside plant or tree (place the leaf vein-side up under a sheet of paper, then rub over the paper with the side of a crayon and watch the image appear). Or try taping or gluing found objects (feathers, shells, seaweed, sand) onto paper to create a mixed media collage.
• Create sea-watercolor paintings: Bring along a squirt bottle and a couple of plastic straws (never leave these behind as they could harm wildlife). Fill your squirt bottle and a small container with sea water. Use the collected water when painting to create sea-watercolor paintings. Use the spray bottle to spritz paintings—watch how the colors bleed together and create new designs. Use the straws to pick up drops of sea water and drip them onto paper saturated with color. What happens if you sprinkle the pictures with sand? What happens when the paintings dry—does the salty water create any special effects?
Photos by Elizabeth Sniegocki
For more creative ideas to keep kids active and engaged in the natural world this summer, check out the 8-week, At-Home Summer Nature Camp eGuide at A Natural Nester. It’s packed with a summer-full of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, arts & crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, book & media suggestions, and more.
Elizabeth Sniegocki is a writer, naturalist, suburban homesteader and mother in Sarasota, Florida. She writes on seasonal and sustainable living, wholesome cooking, community building, conscious parenting and more for various print and online publications. Elizabeth also offers self-paced eCourses and family eGuides to help others create a natural and mindful environment around them, and within. Learn more about her work at Natural Nester.